Discover more from living together, somehow
From the cosmic plenitude of entropy and negentropy to just-in-time.... disintegration?
a reflection on time and technics as the fundamental basis of our civilisation, from Mumford's Technics and Civilisation ('The Monastery and the Clock')
As I wind down for a month off – I won’t be posting from the 19th of this month until the 17th of next month – I thought I’d try something different.
In January this year I had a fundamentally different experience of time aboard a yacht; I wrote about it here.
It was a space in which things took as long as they did, in which the issue of boredom never arose, where we were all fundamentally subjected to cosmic conditions, which shifted interdependently according to their own unfolding processual dynamics.
Dinghy with broken outboard, watching the horizon between squalls, off K’Gari.
This experience put paid to a lot of the frustrating bullshit we experience onshore, where there is never enough time, where the screws are constantly being tightened, where too much is being demanded, where everyone is looking for a shortcut, wants something for nothing, where we have to make do right now, do more with less – and where people are constantly failing to show up for one another, and getting angry with one another for getting angry with one another. Hartmut Rosa has some very interesting observations about this in his work on social acceleration and the uncontrollability of the world – I’ll be writing about them, in my wilfully baroque way, later this year.
Lewis Mumford here offers us one different – deeper – way into this problem. I think there’s a juicier irony here than Weber notices: it was not the protestant ethic that gave rise to the spirit of capitalism (from the 16C) so much has it was the Order of Saint Benedict (from the 5C) that gave rise to our mode of existence, ordered by the clock:
“Time-keeping passed into time-serving and time-accounting and time-rationing. As this took place, Eternity ceased gradually to serve as the measure and focus of human actions”(Mumford, Technics and Civilization, 14).
If humanism is a weltanschauung in which ‘man is the measure of all things’, then it was this all-too-human invention for ordering human existence that, above all – before coal and steam and all of industrial civilisation – displaced and de-centred us.
It was we who put time out of joint by setting our clocks to put our collective existence in order. This is a profound tragic irony, at the other end of which is containerised shipping, its Great Rube, and your inbox.
Consider fifteen minutes out of your working day, and the following recording of me, reading Mumford.